Mental health and Unhealthy Friendships

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Being friends with someone who also has mental health issues can be great because they understand how you feel. Having a mental health disorder can make you feel lonely because you think “normal” people don’t understand you so finding someone who is going through the same thing can be a wonderful thing. You can both support each other and encourage each other to get better.

But it also can be incredibly detrimental for both parties. From personal experience, every friend I had who is also struggling with mental health issues, I lost. I have problems keeping friends in general due to my Borderline Personality Disorder but I have noticed it is more difficult to keep the friends I met at hospital and online with mental illnesses. It’s nice to relate to someone but sometimes, forming a close friendship with that person can make both parties worse. It can become unhealthy.

“Triggering” each other is one factor. Even if both have different conditions, there are ways we can unintentionally say or do something that can set each other off, causing each other to act on destructive behaviours. However, this is more common if both have the same illness such as an eating disorder or are struggling with self harm. I may be at a different stage in my eating disorder recovery and the other person may at a completely different stage. I may be in a relapse and the other person may find that hard to be around. I have had friends who openly said they cannot be friends with me because I am triggering them due to my behaviours and weight loss. I completely understand that as I don’t want to be the cause of someone relapsing. Ending that friendship can be the healthiest option for both.

Constantly comparing each other is another factor why a friendship won’t work. Mental illness isn’t and shouldn’t be a competition but it can unfortunately become one. Comparisons such as…

  • “They seem to be coping better than me but they have the same illness as me.”
  • “How can they manage a career, but I can’t?”
  • “She is in eating disorder recovery too, but why is she still skinny and I gained so much weight?”

I have come across people with chronic illnesses who constantly compare themselves with others with the same condition. “It’s not fair. She can do so much but I can barely get up in the morning.” It can send a negative vibe and it isn’t nice to be around.

There have been people who try to put me down because I can hold down a challenging job whilst struggling with mental health issues but they can’t. It can almost seem rather selfish. It’s like both of you are trying to drag each other down, not lifting each other up.

However, sometimes we can compare in a different way. Competing to see who is the most sickest. Trying to prove to each other that one of you is more sicker than the other by saying things like “Look, I have more diagnoses than you. I have attempted suicide more times than you. I have more pains than you. You don’t know the half of it.” That doesn’t mean the other person hasn’t had it hard. You cannot compare such things.

Everyone’s illness and journey is different and it is silly to compare. Everyone copes differently and have different experiences because our illnesses affect us differently and our lives are different because of this. But, unfortunately when it puts a strain in your friendship, when it gets extreme and competitive, maybe it is time to end it for each other’s own sake.

Why Am I So Open About My Mental Illness?

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A lot of people tell me that I am “brave” for being so open about my mental health problems. But one of the reasons why I am open is because I don’t want “brave” to be a connotation for opening up mental illness anymore. I want people to talk about their issues without being scared of people’s reaction.

I share my story to the world because I want people to realise that anyone can have a mental illness, even those who report on the issue, like myself. I am a journalist and sometimes it does frustrate me that the media portray mental health to be a crime. Of course, there are those who commit serious crime driven by their mental state but not everyone who suffers is like that. There are people who are controlled by their mental illness everyday, but they can be seen as normal, living their daily lives whilst being broken inside. They have their strengths and achievements like any other person.

For the past 11 years, I have struggled with clinical depression, anxiety, an eating disorder and most recently Borderline Personality Disorder. But I am not my illnesses. I used to label myself as my illnesses. I felt like that is all I am and all I’ll ever be. But I realised that is not what I am. I am a person who has a degree and a brilliant job that I love. I am actually successful despite my struggles and I am proud of that. But, whilst trying to live a normal life, I am in treatment and often in hospital. However, my mental illness makes me no less of a person than anyone else.

My issues makes me a very sensitive person. I break easily. Many people can brush off any constructive criticism they get, at work, in their personal lives…But I can’t. I take it personally. I get upset, angry and automatically label myself as a failure. My illness drives me to be perfect at all times. The things I do to be perfect is actually laughable when you think about it. If someone shouts at me, I tell them I won’t eat and I won’t. If someone gives me constructive criticism, my blood boils. I automatically say I will starve myself until I reverse that criticism. I want to punish myself for not being perfect.

My anxiety can also make me delay a lot of things but explaining that to people is difficult because they don’t understand why it is hard for me. I can do it, but it’ll take time. Sometimes I won’t be able to do it because perhaps my confidence is low that day. Everyday is a challenge for me and I need people around me to know that and understand. I need support and I need people to know that sufferers aren’t bad people.

I live with the voice of anorexia and perfectionism every single day, drilling things into my head, trying to put me down, make me change out of hundreds of outfits because the voice says I look fat. Or take all my make-up off many times, only to do it all over again because the voice tells me I look ugly, or pull my hair out in frustration because it is not going the way I want it too, which can end up me burning myself with my hair straighteners and curling tongs because IT’S NOT PERFECT.

Do you now realise how hard it is to suffer but also trying to live a normal life? I don’t know how I would cope if I didn’t talk about it. This is my story, my journey. I am a person and I don’t want to be labelled as bad or stuck up, because I am not. I work hard with a voice every day in my head trying to put me down, and the voice usually wins.

This post is published on The Huffington Post UK

I Need To Do This For Myself

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For years, I have felt like I needed to recover from my eating disorder for external reasons. I needed to get better to go to university – well, I did go to university and graduated, but I am not recovered. I needed to get better for my family – they were always there, but I am still not recovered. I needed to get better to get a job – I have my dream job – but I am not recovered.

I used the word ‘needed’ for a reason. Of course I needed to get better but did I ‘want’ to get better? Well, considering I am still struggling with anorexia, I realised that I did not really want to recover. Instead, I focused on external reasons rather than myself. I did not feel like I deserved to ever recover.

But recently, I have felt so much more rational, and I truly feel like i do deserve to get better for myself and myself only. Not for anyone. Not for my family, not for my friends and certainly for my career. Because, if I focus on reasons to recover for something or someone, truth is, recovery will fail. It will not work. I have been in hospital treatment for years – no change. I simply wasn’t ‘ready’ to recover.

Now, I do want a life without my eating disorder (though I do believe it will always be with me but I will learn to manage it). Believe it or not, my eating disorder treatment team wanted to discharge me – not because I have gotten better but because I showed no passion to recover for myself. Even though I did not verbally say, “i don’t want to get better” – they soon realised this was the case, because i wasn’t actively making use of the help they were giving me. I took treatment for granted.

Discharging me was a worry for my family. They didn’t want me to get discharged because i am still not better – but is it up to them? No. It is my illness and I should take responsibility for it.

My psychiatrist once told me: “If your heart is not 100% in recovery, then you will never recover. Your family and friends might want it more than you do, but they cannot make you recover. Only you can do that. It is your choice.”

Then it just hit me. I have to do this for myself.  I want to get better for myself. I have achieved so much in my external life and I am proud of that – I now need to believe in myself and do something for me. Get better for myself. That is not selfish, despite what anorexia is telling me.

You need to do this for yourself. Not for anything or anyone else. 

Who says you’re not worth it?

Surviving Eid with an Eating Disorder

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Eid, like Christmas and many other religious festivals, is a day of celebration and happiness and for those suffering from eating disorders, it can be a very difficult time for them. As always, days like this are about food and for sufferers, it can have a big impact on their behaviour during that day. From experience, Eid is always very overwhelming. Friends, family, guests, food, food and more food surround you and there is nowhere to hide.

I have been given some strategies to help me get through those difficult times by my treatment team and thought I’d share.

Plan the day in advance and have a back up plan. If you have a meal plan – stick to it. If you don’t have a meal plan, make one. This can prevent you from feeling overwhelmed with all the food in front of you. What helps me get through stressful times like this is planning my meals in advance. But whatever you do, don’t skip a meal! This can cause you to feel hungrier and you’ll only end up binging.

Tell a family member how you are feeling about your fears around food on the day. If they are aware of your feelings, they can help you and make it easier for you to get through the day. For me, if I tell a family member, they tend to keep an eye out and make sure I feel comfortable.

Don’t let yourself be guilt tripped into eating something you don’t want to if you feel like it is going to trigger you into a relapse or even cause you to binge. If an auntie or grandmother has been cooking a traditional dish for hours, you don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to and there is nothing wrong with that at all.

Keep busy and try not to isolate yourself! What I find helps me take my mind off the food is playing with my little cousins. Try and do other activities that does not relate to food.

Finally, it is crucial to remember that Eid is not just about food. It is about family and joy, so try not to let your eating disorder ruin it for you. But also remember, don’t beat yourself up if your day does not go to plan because after all, it is Eid and you deserve to enjoy it. Remember, God is always with you to help you get through any hardship you are facing.